At Stealing Share, we have worked with several beers over the years and have always found the market fascinating. It is a complex mixture of the big American lagers (Budweiser, Miller and Coors) and the craft beers that are making inroads into the leaders’ market share.
The one beer we often discussed with clients and examined closely was Pabst Blue Ribbon, the hipster beer that didn’t advertise, was cheap and had an unusual brand face (who customers see themselves as being when using the brand): Being cool by drinking a terrible beer that avoided the mainstream.
Of course, beer drinkers say the number one reason why they drink the beer they do is because of taste. But that’s just a rational explanation for the true reason why they drink the beer they do.
Because they see themselves in the brand.
Today, the brand face of Pabst Blue Ribbon is becoming less attractive. PBR is having its worst year since its heyday about six years ago, with sales in deep decline over the past few years and down 2.6% so far this year.
There’s a reason for that: The brand face of PBR was a fad. And fads come and go, especially when the teenagers of the last decade are older now with more sophisticated needs.
How PBR worked and what to do now.
In a way, PBR got lucky. A generational segment that PBR didn’t intend to join picked it accidently. (The Blue Ribbon in its name was designed to say PBR is a winner, after all.) It went with that success but, as with any trend, things were eventually going to change and now the PBR brand finds itself wondering what to do next.
There is still a market for a PBR brand, but now it must communicate to target audiences. In the past, PBR wouldn’t advertise because its customers would think it was selling out. Now that the brand meaning has waned, drinkers have forgotten that meaning or simply don’t care – or those once loyal PBR drinkers now see the brand as juvenile.
One of the major problems facing PBR is that it is buried in the netherworld below the big three and the craft beers. Few are going to switch from another beer to PBR based on taste. There is no beer drinker alive who thinks his/her preferred beer tastes bad. Drinkers don’t switch on taste and they are certainly not going to switch to a beer whose brand face was bad beer.
No, Pabst Blue Ribbon will need to find a new brand face, or at least an updated one, that speaks to target audiences in a way that makes drinkers covet it. To do that, it must overcome the stigma its previous success created and, as much as PBR might think it unworthy, it now needs to advertise.
In today’s world, that’s not selling out. That’s just good business.